National Health Care
Major investment for a broken system
Nuclear Power: Danger or Savior?
Mikhail Khodorkovsky photoxpress
Russia to stick to its guns P.02
From tycoon to artists’ muse P.06
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
of Manned Space Flight
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News in Brief
Business Breeding commercial cattle in hopes of reducing beef imports
U.S. Cowboys Join Russian Ranch With True Grit
New Art Fund Enters Russian Stock Market The first major private Russian art fund was launched on Moscow’s MICEX stock exchange this month. With approximately 300,000 original prints, partially composed of Soviet prints, it is worth an estimated $467 million. Called “Sobranie.PhotoEffect,” the fund is expected to appeal to the investor seeking steady but slow returns, according to a recent Reuters report. There is only one Russian art fund, Atlanta Art, currently listed on the exchange.
Search Begins for New Musical Talent
Montana Rancher teams up with Russian businessmen to set up the Stevenson-Sputnik Ranch, a new agro-business, in southern Russia. Peter van dyk
Special to Russia Now
Half a dozen cowboys sit around a long table in a newly built bunkhouse, waiting for lunch. They spent the morning in the usual routine — the herd of 1,500 cattle is calving and it has been a busy month — but when the food arrives it is a stark reminder they are not at home in Montana. “We’re not bashful about it. We eat beef and we eat a lot of beef,” said Darrell Steven-
son, the U.S. rancher who teamed up with two Russian businessmen to set up the Stevenson-Sputnik Ranch in the Voronezh Region of southern Russia. “One of the most difficult transitions for these cowboys has been the change in diet.” Lunch is soup followed by spaghetti and a meat patty. On the table in front of these men, the plates look small. The cowboys have all lost weight, but they didn’t sign up for a vacation. “Challenging is the best word,” Dan Conn said, halfway through a two-month stay. “Everything has been different from the food to the culture to the
facilities. The weather is the one thing that is the same.” The weather may be the same as in Montana, but the land — about a two-hour drive south of the city of Voronezh — is very different. “Some of the most fertile soil in the world is in this region... We’re talking about organic matter that is in excess of 12 percent,” Stevenson said. “That’s unheard of where I’m from. We fight rocks, these people fight mud. Where we’re sitting right now would be about 60 days more growing season than at home.” Now the quality of the cows matches the quality of the land. Stevenson says his partners’ ambitions included importing “one
of the top sets of Angus cattle in the world,” with full pedigrees going back several generations. The imported cattle cost roughly $7 million, and total investment in the ranch has been about $19 million, with around $15 million coming from a statesubsidized loan from Sberbank, Russia’s national savings bank. “What Russia demands is live cattle, and with that they are very forward thinking and very aggressive,” Stevenson said. “Moving forward, this will be the nucleus for establishing a commercial beef cowherd in this region of Russia, and hopefully to extend further than that.” Russia consistently imports
40,000-50,000 live cattle per year, according to U.S. statistics. The government wants to bring that figure down, and a Food Security Doctrine signed by President Dmitry Medvedev a year ago demands Russia produce 85 percent of its meat domestically by 2020. Sergei Goncharov, one of the Russian partners in the joint venture, said cutting imports is so important to the government that subsidies cover one out of every four dollars the partners put into the project. The partners believe the prices the cattle will command mean the project will make money quickly.
The American cowboys said that cattle imported from Montana found southern Russia’s climate surprisingly hospitable, even in winter.
continued on page 2
Corruption Activists join with the authorities to protect small businesses
Prison Turns Executive Into Activist Yana Yakovleva spent seven months in jail and now fights corruption on behalf of vulnerable small businesses. Vladimir ruvinsky russia now
from personal archives
In 2006, Yana Yakovleva was an ambitious co-owner of a chemicals company called Sofex. By all accounts a savvy executive, she was no neophyte to the ways of Russian business. Still, she was shocked when a special drug police unit came to her offices with a scheme to get kickbacks from her company. The police seemed to think they were taking what was “legally” theirs. Yakovleva, young and principled, refused to pay up. That noble move got her arrested and thrown in jail. Before she knew it, she was teaching exercise classes to down-and-out women in a female detention center. “There’s a war going on against businesspeople in Russia by government officials who consider them to be criminals in the first place,” Yakovleva said. “They can approach any busi-
nessperson, launch a criminal case and begin extorting money. And the entrepreneur has to understand that he will have to fight the bureaucratic machine to the death,” she added. Yakovleva, now 39, spent seven months in jail awaiting trial. She languished in prison, she told Russia Now, because
she refused to take part in the scheme concocted by drug enforcement officials. “I could not believe what was happening to me. Everything I worked for, my reputation, everything was suddenly threatened. Instead, I sat in a detention center. I have never been so frightened in my life.”
Yana Yakovleva, once an unlikely activist, helps businesses outwit corruption.
She lived in a woman’s detainment center where conditions were rough. “There was no shower, no refrigerator; we kept groceries on the windowsill, boiled water on a heater and made a TV antenna out of it. The approach to prisoners has not changed since the 1930s,” Yakovleva explained. Her case drew the attention of human rights activists in and outside of Russia, as well as the attention of President Dmitry Mevedev. The anti-drug police unit had tried to extort her on the basis that the industrial solvent her company manufactured could be considered a controlled substance, according to Yakovleva. The charges were dropped when a court struck down the rule that had made it a controlled substance. Yakovleva filed a complaint, and the police denied wrongdoing. Yakovleva Fights Back Five years later, Yakovleva is probably the most prominent business activist working against corruption, cooperat-
ing with start-up businesses and working with the Russian government. There are tens of thousands of people in pre-trial detention charged with white-collar crimes, according to activists, though no official statistics are maintained. Few are acquitted. “It’s an assembly line,” Yakovleva once quipped to the Western press. It is not only foreign investors worrying about rogue officials demanding bribes or raiders taking over businesses. According to recent research conducted by the Russian government, 17 percent of Russian businessmen intend to emigrate, while 50 percent would not rule out such a move. (See “Why the Brain Drain,” page 5.) Even the possibility of such an exodus jeopardizes the president’s plans to modernize the country. Medvedev has repeatedly said that business must be supported and protected to boost the economy. Continued on page 2
The 12th Annual Nutcracker International Television Contest for Young Musicians, scheduled to take place at the beginning of November, has launched its application process. Sponsored by state-owned TV network Russia Kultura, the event brings together talented classical musicians under the age of 14 from all over the world to compete against one another. The jury includes highly acclaimed Russian virtuosi such as Vladimir Spivakov and Yuri Bashmet. The winners perform before a live audience with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra in Moscow. See the Nutcracker website at www.tvkultura.ru.
Russian language gets a boost Expecting the rest of the world to speak English is no longer acceptable, said Dan Davidson, president of the American Council of International Education (ACIE). He was speaking to a group of high school students participating in the Olympiada of Spoken Russian at Geroge Mason University in Virginia. The Olympiada, which began in the era of Khruschchev and Kennedy, has experienced a resurgence. This year it was combined with the World Festival of Russian Language, which featured a highpowered delegation from St. Petersburg, including Ludmila Verbitskaya, an educational adviser to President Dmitry Medvedev.
In this issue OPINION
Putin’s Pragmatism Explaining Russia’s Reaction to the Libyan Conflict Turn to page 4
Will Russian-Polish Relations Recover? Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski turn to page 5
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Business in brief
Energy Even after Japan’s tragedy, most of the world is not willing to part with nuclear power quite yet
Sticking to Nuclear Power will be an example for the rest of the world,” Erdogan said during a press conference following talks with Medvedev. On the same day, Russia and Belarus signed off on a $6 billion agreement to cooperate in building a nuclear power plant in Belarus. Construction is due to start in September. Russia and Hungary also opened talks on the possible participation of Russian companies in a project to modernize Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant. And on March 1, ITAR-TASS reported that Russia signed a new deal to build a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh at the cost of $2 billion, citing officials in the Bangladesh government. Public opinion in western Europe remains wary of Russianmade nuclear power stations following the explosion of the Chernobyl reactor in 1986. Russia abandoned the Soviet-era RMBK class of reactors following the Chernobyl disaster, although there are still 11 RMBK reactors operating in Russia today. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Russia would continue selling Russian nuclear technology to its allies, and claims that the next generation nuclear power plants are safer than ever. “We now have a whole arsenal of progressive technological means to ensure the stable and accident-free operation of nuclear power plants,” Putin said in the middle of March. Russia has the youngest nuclear reactors in the world— they have an average age of 19 years, compared with 26 years in western Europe and 30 years in the United States, Bloomberg reported. The Fukashima reactor is 38 years old, making it one of the oldest re-
business new europe
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced into an embarrassing about-face after all six of Fukashima’s nuclear reactors showed signs of trouble in the days after their supporting infrastructure was washed away by the tsunami. Merkel ordered seven of Germany’s oldest reactors to be shut down for extensive tests, even though six months earlier she forced through a plan to increase the amount of nuclear power Germany generates. That decision resulted in some of Germany’s biggest public protests in a decade. Most of western Europe’s leaders find themselves in a similar position, but Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was quick to affirm that his country will continue to build new power stations. However, following Merkel’s decision, he also ordered a comprehensive safety review of Russia’s nuclear assets. Putin’s comments were followed by similar statements from the leaders of Belarus, Ukraine and Turkey, all of which recently purchased Russianmade nuclear power stations. During Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Moscow in the middle of March, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia will ensure Turkey’s nuclear power plant, planned for the southern town of Akkuyu, will be able to withstand powerful earthquakes. “The plant that will be built
After a recently signed $370 million deal with the United States to supply 21 Russianmade helicopters to Afghanistan, state-owned Russian Helicopters has decided to float a $500 million initial public offering on the Moscow and London stock exchanges. The company was formed last year from 11 regional helicopter manufacturers in an effort to streamline production and development. The company produces a broad range of helicopters that serve as the backbone of both Russia’s military aviation and oil and gas industries. One of its models, the Mi-26, is one of the largest and heaviest helicopters in the world currently in service. It weighs an estimated 50 tons. With the Russian armed forces expected to replace around 1,000 Mil-family helicopters in the next decade, Russian Helicopters hopes demand for its IPO will be high. The company plans to use the money to pay off debt and purchase smaller manufacturers, Chief Executive Dmitry Petrov said in a statement.
Russia and most of the emerging market countries have reasserted their commitment to using more nuclear energy.
Workers examine the reactor hall of the Smolensk Nuclear Power Plant in western Russia.
actors in the world still in operation. It was scheduled for decommissioning this year, but its license was renewed for another 10 years. “Until now, countries in emerging markets were well out in front of the nuclear industry revival, accounting for a disproportionate share of the expected growth in nuclear energy use. Out of the 62 reactors currently under construction, 48 — or 77 percent of the total — are being built in China, Russia,
India and South Korea,” said Sergei Bubnov, who heads Renaissance Asset Managers’ utilities fund. Among emerging markets, Russia is the most reliant on nuclear power. Nuclear energy already accounts for 16 percent of the country’s produced power, and Russia is planning to double its nuclear capacity over the next 20 years. “Inevitably, some of these plans might have to be reconsidered,” Bubnov said. “Russia
Continued from page 1
Fifteen hundred cattle were brought to Voronezh
“All of us here are generational ranchers...to teach [a novice] is a big challenge,” Dan said. “When they start to give birth, we bring them in and help them if they are having a hard time, and look after them. If the calves are outdoors and get sick, we bring them in, warm them up and just generally take care of them.” The head vet, Alexander Naritsyn, admits that taking care of 1,500 cattle on the half-finished ranch would have been impossible without the imported help. After all, at the start of
December there was almost nothing there. Now, more than 900 calves have been born on the ranch. “A big ‘thank you’ to the Americans, who brought us their horsemanship and lasso skills,” he said. “If not for them, we’d be chasing one cow for half a day — they can get them back in 10 minutes.” Stevenson recalled that the handlers at Sheremetyevo Airport could have done with that kind of expertise when one shipment of cattle was flown in from Chicago. One cow got free when they were being transferred from the 747 to the truck for the drive to the ranch. The airport was closed to planes for almost an hour until the run-
has a vocal environmental lobby, which might lead to the delay or even cancellation of some projects, in turn leading to higher prices.” However, as Russia’s economy returns to strong growth, the government has little choice but to build new nuclear facilities. Prior to the crisis, the supply and demand for power were evenly matched, so further economic growth would be constrained by blackouts. At a conference in March,
Vasily Nikonov of Russia’s Energy Ministry said that the country plans to cope with increased energy needs by constructing 18 nuclear power and hydropower plants with a combined installed capacity of 11.2 gigawatts. “It is impossible to speak about a global energy balance without the nuclear power industry,” Putin said at a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community’s (EurAsEC) intergovernmental council.
Prison Turns Executive Into Activist
Montana Cowboys Head to Voronezh “Cattle like we have cost from three to four thousand dollars for cows, and for bulls, six to eight thousand,” he said, in part because they have to be flown or shipped in from Europe, Australia or the Americas. “At those prices, we can comfortably pay the bank and even make a profit [after selling the cattle].” Goncharov’s company, Sputnik, which is based in the Leningrad Region around St. Petersburg, is already involved in cattle embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization. The company, it turned out, needed some management expertise as well. Some of the basics were missing, Stevenson said. “They wanted the best of technology and resources, but what I felt that they needed was management, maybe more so than the live cattle itself,” he said. “The short-term goal at this point in time is for full American support for two years through every season of the year, with the anticipation that we can hand this off on a daily or yearly routine in that amount of time over to the Russians and this place can be functional,” Stevenson added. There are three fully qualified veterinarians on the ranch, but some of the farmhands have never worked with cattle before. But they aren’t letting that hold them back — after just a month on the job, a Russian named Leonid is calling himself a cowboy. “It’s the first time I’ve done this work,” he said. “I’ve only done it for a month, but it’s not bad work; it’s a good team.
Russian Helicopters Launches IPO
away was corralled into a truck. Some of the locals on the Stevenson-Sputnik Ranch may have started with little more knowledge of cattle farming than the Sheremetyevo cargo handlers, but Stevenson said they are keen to learn. “When the opportunity came...there were two or three of them on horses within minutes,” he explained. “We had to show them how to saddle the horse — I’m not sure if any of them had actually rode before then. Well, consequently, one of them got dumped on his head pretty good the second day around, but he probably deserved it.” Teaching their Russian colleagues how to take care of the cattle is the hardest part of the job for the cowboys. Conn, from Avon, Mont., said not all of the farmhands will have what it takes. “All of us here are generational ranchers, cattlemen, and to teach somebody who’s relatively new, who’s never been around more than a milk cow or a few pigs or sheep, is a big challenge,” he said. “The few that do work will be very good, because they’ve had to overcome great boundaries.” “This has really become about more than cowboys and cattle,” Stevenson said. “This has really become about two countries, two cultures. It’s the opportunity to educate, it’s the ability to stimulate a local economy, the opportunity to expand a cowherd in order to feed a region, a nation, a portion of the world that has the natural resources, that is completely capable of it.”
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
Instead of leaving Russia altogether, Yakovleva created her own organization, called Business Solidarity, to support entrepreneurs who suffer as a result of illegal actions by the authorities. She was also appointed to chair an anti-corruption center, which just began working with Delovaya Rossiya (Business Russia), a large association of companies. The center’s mission is to assist entrepreneurs in the fight against bureaucratic raids. “This is a union of two forces — the authorities and business,” said
“Each year [about] 70,000 enterprises throughout the whole country are targets of raider[s].” Delovaya Rossiya Chairman Boris Titov, who chairs the anticorruption center jointly with Yakovleva. A Company Taken Away The center took on the case of Galina and Yevgeny Konovalov, husband and wife entrepreneurs (both 49) from Krasnodar whose company was taken away by local officials. “In 2008, we learned that the company’s owner had been mysteriously replaced and, when we went to court, my husband was illegally arrested on fabricated criminal charges,” Galina Konovalov said. The lawyers told her the case was hopeless, but this year the
couple had two major victories: One court ruled that there had been several breaches in the criminal case against Yevgeny, while another court returned the company to the Konovalovs. “This is an instance of typical raiding, and we are trying to help them get their property back now,” Yakovleva said. Titov said the center is essentially the first attempt by businesses to fight corruption, whose grip, as Medvedev stated, “is not weakening and has the entire economy by the throat.” “Each year, approximately 70,000 enterprises throughout the whole country are targets of raider attacks,” Titov said. “It is effectively a fully developed racket on a government-wide scale.” Criminal law is currently the main channel for seizing businesses. “It used to be arbitration courts, but the quality and independence of the judges increased there,” Yakovleva said. More amendments to the criminal procedure code, effectively softening the penalty for economic crimes, took effect last month. “With Dmitry Medvedev, a lot of good laws have been passed, but the problem for now has been enforcing them,” Yakovleva said. These days, Yakovleva keeps a diverse set of confidantes, from oil CEOs to Lyudmilla Alexeyeva, a Soviet-era dissident who now heads the Moscow Helsinki Group. Said Yakovleva: “I see my calling in trying to help people from my own experience and change the situation somehow.”
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Moscow Doesn’t Top Global Cities Survey Moscow jumped up a spot in real estate agency Knight Frank’s Global Cities Survey to 21st place. The survey measures cities’ importance to wealthy individuals from across the globe. It compares metropolises by economic activity (Moscow took 16th place), political power (31st), quality of life (19th) and knowledge and influence (21st). New York, London and Paris topped the survey, while seven of the top 10 spots went to cities in Western Europe, North America or Australia. However, the fortunes of developing countries (and the so-called BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India and China) in the survey are expected to rise over the next decade, with Moscow predicted to take 10th place by 2020. San Francisco and Paris were the biggest losers of this year’s survey, dropping from 16th to 20th and third to ninth places, respectively.
Russians Slowly Turning to Whiskey
After being ranked among the heaviest drinkers in the world, largely thanks to a palate for vodka (see Alcohol, page 3), new data suggests Russians may be gradually shifting loyalty in favor of whiskey. “Gin is down, tequila is down, cognac is static, but whiskey imports are growing,” Erkin Tuzmukhamedov, a leading sommelier and whiskey lover, told The Moscow Times. “It was the only spirit to continue to grow during the crisis, and it accounts for about twothirds of all spirit imports.” Whiskey imports steadily increased in recent years, while vodka sales have dropped. However, Russia remains the world’s largest spirits market, consuming 275 million nineliter cases in 2009, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Domestically produced vodka accounted for 229 million of those cases.
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Politics & Society
Health Doctors and nurses are underpaid and take unregulated fees in facilities that lag behind Western standards
Russian doctors and their patients wait for new reforms to help them get the medical care and facilities they deserve. galina masterova
Special to Russia Now
When Yevgeniya Ivanovna’s mother went into the hospital recently, her daughter, Zoya knew intuitively that she should pay the nurse an unofficial fee in cash — even though the hospital is not private. She handed over $18. It is not the size of the fee that is the problem, according to sociologists, but the nature of it. On paper, Russians have a health system that is free. That paper is the constitution, written in 1993, which guarantess universal health care. In reality, Russia has a split system with a mix of private medical care and a state system that lags far behind. Years of underfunding has left the healthcare system in a precarious state with decrepit hospitals staffed by demoralized and woefully underpaid staff, many of whom encourage patients to make ad-hoc payments. One of the great contradictions in Russian society is the fact that some of the best doctors and scientific researchers come out of a country where,
a few hundred miles outside Moscow, patients’ families can be expected to buy their own gauze, needles and bags of saline and other needs for a hospital stay. Magazine stories describe hospitals where instruments are sterilized in soup pots on electric coils. Quality Caretakers Expect a Daily Struggle The Russian government is embarking on a huge reform which will see an influx of cash, over $28 billion, to outfit the country’s hospitals with new high-tech equipment, better salaries and, it is hoped, improved care by 2013, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced at the All-Russia Medical Workers’ Forum this month. The spending boost should see Russia increase its healthcare spending from 3.9% to 5% to approach EU levels. The dire state of Russia’s health care and its precarious mortality rate have acted as catalysts for the reform. “Russia has a birth rate characteristic of developed countries — low — and a death rate of a developing country — high,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “There are several causes for the death rate, and one of them is an inferior quality of
health care.” The most dire warnings by demographers predict that Russia’s population could drop from 142 million to 100 million by 2050. But no trend is irreversible: Russians who anticipate longer and healthier lives may want to have more children. The government is building a series of health centers around the country with a focus on cardiovascular disease and cancer. Dmitry Pushkar, 47, is Russia’s chief urologist and an experienced surgeon with a worldclass reputation. He has done groundbreaking work in bringing cancer-curing technologies and experience to Russia, and is a pioneer in the field of preventative medicine for men. After successfully obtaining funding from the Ministry of Health and Social Development to import life-saving robotic surgery equipment to hospitals in four Russian cities, Pushkar felt the problem goes deeper than financing. “Society itself must deliver a message,” Pushkar said. “What does it mean to be a doctor? Society means everyone, the president, the prime minister, workers. A united society must say that we understand what it means to be a good doctor and how important it is.”
Health Care You Could Live With
Neonatal surgery is expected to save thousands of children per year in Russia.
51.6% of Russians die of cardiovascular diseases, 24.4% from cancer, 10.2% from accidents, murer or alcohol.
The year in which Russia’s government hopes to stop the country’s population decline.
Hi-Tech and Pharmaceuticals Take Front Seat Russian hospitals are famously run down and underfunded, but reform has taken a front seat for both Putin and Medvedev. Ben Aris
business new europe
Russia will allocate $159.7 million to provide citizens with state-of-the-art medical equipment at polyclinics spread across 55 of Russia’s regions. The largest chunk of the money, some $16.2 million, will be spent on the Krasnodar region; with Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two most popu-
lous cities in Europe, receiving the next largest sums of $12.5 million and $12.8 million, respectively. The reform of the entire healthcare and pharmaceutical sector has been moved to the top of the political agenda as the Kremlin extends its attempts to improve the lives of Russia’s citizens and diversify the economy. During a recent inspection trip to the city of Bryansk, located on Russia’s border with Ukraine, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the development of domestic hi-tech
medical equipment production should be a priority for the Russian government and regional governors. He said that the government was planning to spend a total of $4.8 billion on the development of hi-tech medical treatment in 2008-2013. Progress has already been made in some sectors. The polyclinic management system has been overhauled, doctors’ salaries have been hiked and a new ambulance fleet was purchased. The number of Russian citizens who received hi-tech medical care had increased fivefold to 290,000 people over the last
five years, Putin said. But there is still much to do. “To reach the EU level by 2020, Russia needs to increase healthcare spending by around 15 percent a year,” said Lev Yakobson, first prorector of the Higher School of Economics’ National Research Institute. One main thrust of the reform is to develop the domestic pharmaceutical and medical equipment production industries. The state has already earmarked $1.4 billion to support the development of the domestic manufacturers of medical equipment. The Kremlin has
The reforms will place an emphasis on preventative care and will include the retraining of doctors, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova stated in a government report. The Soviet system, which was free for everyone, concentrated on specialist and hospital care, ignoring preventative care. In Russia, cancer is still often diagnosed when the disease has spread to a late stage, Golikova said. One of the programs in the new reforms will set up nine high-tech perinatal centers around the country. Golikova said that the use of neonatal surgery will be expanded and is expected to save the lives of 1,000 children each year.
launched a stick-and-carrot campaign to encourage major international pharmaceutical companies to increase their investment in Russia. The stick is the increase of import tariffs on medical products, and the carrot gives those companies with domestic Russian production tax breaks. And the market is not one the global industry wants to ignore: Russia imported $9.2 billion worth of pills and other medicines in 2010. The scheme has already scored two big successes. The multinational pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca started building a new $150 million production plant and R&D facility in Kaluga, while Finland’s Orion said it is in advanced talks to enter the market via acquisition. The two companies follow the likes of Novartis and GlaxoSmithKlein, which already have production facilities in Russia.
Better Neonatal Care, One Text Message at a Time Already a success in the United States, Text4Baby comes to Russia in hopes of improving care through mothers’ mobile phones. Emma burrows
special to Russia now
Russia has experienced a baby boomlet, thanks in part to the 2007 legislation introducing the “mother’s capital”— a cash payment to women who have more than one child. Russia’s birth rate has increased 21 percent since 2005, and in 2009, the population increased for the first time in 15 years. The government also launched an initiative to modernize maternity hospitals. It is clear that encouraging more births is an important part of the government’s plan to combat the country’s falling population. What happens, however, when the baby comes home? Enter Text4Baby. This program, pioneered in the United States, targets women who might otherwise not have access to the best healthcare information. Mothers who sign up for the text message service receive three texts per week containing information on topics such as pre-natal care, immunization and car seat safety. The program has been hugely successful, with more than 135,000
Pregnant mothers can now receive advice via SMS.
subscribers in the United States in the first year alone. This success has led to a bilateral collaboration bringing the program to Russia. Text4Baby is scheduled to launch in Russia this September. Russia proved an attractive market for the program’s organizers because it has some of the greatest levels of mobile phone penetration in the world, and the project has attracted strong support from inside the Russian government. Experts from the Kulakov Center—part of the Ministry of Health and Social Development—
will take a leading role in developing the text messages. Judy Twigg, an expert on health and healthcare reform in Russia and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., stressed that education and communication are crucial for better care in Russia. “Public health information, education and communication are the critical things — important, if not more important, than just changing the healthcare system in isolation,” she said. Organizers said that Text4Baby
underscores that direct communication with mothers, who often make health decisions for the entire family, increases the likelihood that they will make healthy choices. There are challenges to implementing the program. Coordinating the involvement of governmental and non-governmental organizations has been difficult. Language experts were also needed to reduce long and complicated Russian phrases into short but coherent text messages. Elena Dmitrieva from the Health and Development Foundation (HDF), which is heading up Text4Baby in Russia, stressed that one difficulty was trying to encourage Russian doctors to improve their counselling skills and to take a more “hands on” approach. Patients also need to change the way they approach the doctor’s office. The HDF hopes Text4Baby “will open a new era of patient-doctor relationships where the client is no longer a silent patient who sits passively listening to a wise doctor, but will come with questions,” Dmitrieva said via e-mail. Text4Baby also has the potential to bring Russians and Americans together. In the words of Judy Twigg, the project “is one of coequals discussing a common challenge.”
Growth in Private Insurance But for now, Russians have little confidence in their healthcare system, and some are opting for private insurance. In fact, the insurance industry is predicting double-digit growth. The rich, meanwhile, often head abroad for top medical treatment. Israeli hospitals, which are often staffed by emigre Russian doctors, advertise for patients in Russian newspapers. As Zoya found out, it is standard practice to pay this vague tax that has no price list and no official recognition. “The minute you arrive you pay everyone: You pay nurses, the people who clean the floor, the doctor and the surgeon,” Lipman said.
“The only way you know how much to pay is by asking people around you,” Lipman continued, emphazing the informality of the process. The reforms will raise doctors’ salaries by up to 30 percent, but with wages so low, the medical profession is not yet impressed with that, said Kirill Danishevsky, an independent health expert. Pushkar, the urology chief, said that part of the solution is moral as well as financial. “It’s impossible to reform in a month or a year, but we can start by saying that there are good doctors and bad doctors,” Pushkar said. “We should provide the good with total support.”
Last Call for Alcohol It is by now well known that Russian men are considered a dying breed. There was much fanfare when their lifespan increased a little, recently, to the age of 60. But their lives are still much shorter than their Western peers. There are many reasons these lives are cut short, from heart disease to smoking, but one of the biggest contributing causes of death is alcoholism. The consequences of this addiction are deadly and spikes Russian mortality, said Igor Beloborodov, the head of the Institute for Demographic Studies. International researchers reported two years ago that the effect of alcohol may have been underestimated and that half of deaths among Russians aged 15 to 54 were due to alcohol.
The problem is well identified, but the solutions are not. In Russia, alcoholics often go untreated. Techniques for sobering up included “coding.” Coding involves convincing people that if they drink after taking an anti-alcohol drug they will get sick and could even die. Some treatment programs have begun to use Americanstyle 12-step programs to treat alcoholics. The Russian government is trying to limit consumption. Vodka prices have risen as a result, and although they still remain low by Western standards, observers note that it is a step in the right direction. There is also an effort to fight counterfeit production — responsible for most alcohol deaths — by regulating surrogate fluids like cologne and antifreeze.
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NO MORE MINISTER chairmen Aleh Tsyvinski, Sergei Guriev
resident Dmitry Medvedev has moved against some of the most powerful men in the government, including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who is perhaps the closest figure to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — and who until recently was chairman of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil firm. Medvedev signed a decree to strip Sechin and others of their chairmanships of some of Russia’s biggest state-owned companies. The stated purpose of the decree was to improve the country’s investment climate, but the purge may reflect other, more important goals. Medvedev has, in the past, recognized both the need to attract Russian and foreign investment and the country’s dismal investment climate. But this time, his actions truly matched his rhetoric as he outlined specific measures to be taken and set deadlines for implementing them. And with some of the measures bound to face stiff opposition by powerful interest groups, the reforms are set to be a major test of Medvedev’s real strength — and of his plans to run for another term as president. Even partial success would allow a Medvedev reelection campaign to be built around themes of anti-corruption and transparency.
the moscow times
Corruption and government accountability are probably the most important issues for Medvedev’s electoral base among the country’s rising middle class and “protest voters.” United Russia’s recent poor performance in regional elections shows that the electorate is fed up with the sta-
tus quo and is ready to vote for an alternative. The success of leading anticorruption activist Alexei Navalny is another wake-up call for Medvedev. Notably, many of the measures proposed by the president are similar to those recommended by Navalny: re-
Those who fear transparency are those who have something to hide. This is not an abstract accusation. Navalny’s repeated requests for the minutes of several state-owned companies’ board meetings generated huge resistance. Two companies even tried, unsuccessfully, to change
moving government officials from the boards of state-owned companies, ensuring access to corporate documents for minority shareholders and developing a way to respond to whistleblowers on corruption. Medvedev made a simple and convincing argument:
the law to reject shareholder requests for information. The most controversial of Medvedev’s measures is the removal of key bureaucrats from corporate boards. His orders list 17 state-owned companies and the powerful ministers and deputy prime ministers to be removed from board chairmanships by July 1. The president’s logic is straightforward: A government official in charge of an oil company or a bank faces an inherent conflict of interest. The chairman of a board must serve the interests of the company, but a government official must pursue public interest, which includes preserving a competitive environment in the oil or banking sector. Yet board chairmanships remained the domain of the bureaucracy. Not a single stateowned company has an independent chairman. And the chairmanship is a vital position, as its occupant sets the agenda and controls discussions. It is difficult to talk about standards of corporate governance in Russia’s state-owned companies since most do not even have regularly scheduled board meetings, owing to the unpredictability of government officials’ schedules. This may seem little more than an annoyance, but it has a key implication: When there is no regular schedule for board meetings, many
independent directors — especially foreigners — often cannot attend. If the board chairman is not a government official and can commit to an annual schedule, highly skilled independent directors from around the world could be attracted. It is not clear who will replace the bureaucrats as board chairs. Given their importance, the new chairs must have the necessary skills and integrity. It is uncertain whether the new board chairs will actually run the companies. Russia’s legal system is imperfect, and even serious violations of corporate governance are difficult to punish. It is not unthinkable that management will simply ignore the boards. Finally, while some board members are truly independent, others receive “directives” from the government; it matters whether the new board chairs run their boards independently or according to the Kremlin’s orders. In the latter case, the new — and quite expensive — chairs would be treated as government proxies, making a mockery of the entire exercise. The good news is that Medvedev’s chief economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, has said government directives “will be reformed” as well. We will know soon — certainly before July 1 — whether Medvedev can implement his agenda and whether he is willing and able to build his own power base in the process. Sergei Guriev is rector of Moscow’s New Economic School. Aleh Tsyvinski is an economics professor at Yale University.
Roland Nash The Moscow Times
rime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comparison of the coalition bombing of Libya to medieval crusades has been reasonably criticized as the latest example of a confused Russian opportunism. It seems rather cynical to bash a coalition that has been so careful to present the right kind of image, even though its primary purpose is protecting a population from a dictator. It is also disingenuous given that the Kremlin gave implicit support for the bombing of Libya through its abstention as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The critics of Putin’s comment might be operating from the moral high ground, but they are also missing the point. Putin did not criticize the West because he wishes to side with
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi or even because he finds it amusing to annoy the United States. Instead, his comments reflect an evolving pragmatism in foreign policy based on economic self-interest. After two decades of trying to define itself with regard to the West, Russia is finding a role for itself on the international stage. One of the main difficulties that Russia has faced since the Soviet collapse is that the country has been at the bottom of several peer groups simultaneously. It has been the defeated superpower, the slowgrowth member of BRIC, the odd man out in the Group of Eight and the black sheep of Europe. Consequently, whenever Russia has attempted to define itself as any of the above areas, it has been perceived as a laggard at best and a failure at worst. The foreign policy that has emerged in recent years at-
Russians Against Intervention Most russians support ordinary libyans, but oppose action
While Russians remained divided over the causes for the unrest in Libya (19 percent believed it was a stuggle against authoritarianism, 14 percent blamed low living standards), a whopping 62 percent felt the international community shouldn’t intervene in favor of allowing Libyans to decide their own fate.
Letters from readers, guest columns and cartoons labeled “Comments,” “Viewpoint” or appearing on the “Opinion” and “Reflections” pages of this supplement are selected to represent a broad range of views and do not necessarily represent those of the editors of Russia Now or Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Please send letters to the editor to US@rbth.ru
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tempts to avoid confining Russia to any particular classification. A combination of improved economics, a period of relative stability at home and the epiphany in 2008 that much of the Western model wasn’t sustainable in the West — and all the more so in Russia — seems to have generated a new strategy both domestically and abroad. There are several components to this strategy. The first component is a golden rule: Make no enemies — or at least as few as possible. Russia is building relationships across a wide spectrum. The improvements in relations with the United States and Europe have tended to attract most of the headlines. Treaties on nuclear weapons reductions, better cooperation with the West on Iran, progress on World Trade Organization negotiations, steady gas supply into Europe and the lessconfrontational abstention vote in the UN all reflect significant
improvements in relations between the West and Russia. The growing ties with the emerging world have been just as significant. Russia is developing ties across Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East. Yekaterinburg hosted the first BRIC conference. The emerging countries are providing significant investment into Russia. Russia’s national champions are being encouraged to step out onto the international stage — particularly into India, Venezuela, Brazil, the Persian Gulf states, across sub-Saharan Africa and, most notably, in China. In 2010, China became a larger trade partner for Russia than Germany. Compare that with trade with the United States, which now accounts for less than 4 percent of Russia’s trade turnover. Asia and the Persian Gulf determine the price of Russia’s major exports. The
Putin bets on pragmatism
Competing on price competitiveness according to Western rules is not Russia’s strong suit. West is no longer viewed as a reliable source of long-term financing. Competing on efficiency and price competitiveness according to Western rules and insti-
tutions is not Russia’s strong suit. But once politics and economics are employed together, Russia’s position becomes much improved. Russia is happy mixing international trade agreements with politics, just as it has mixed together politics and business domestically. This approach may not be particularly welcome in the United States or Britain, but it is more consistent with the approach to business in much of the rest of the world where the delineation between the
state and the private economy is less defined. It is against this backdrop that Putin’s unhelpful comments should be taken. Russia never got very far by defining itself as either pro- or anti-Western. It is now attempting to be more pragmatic. It may look cynical in London or Washington, but it might reflect the recognition in Moscow that the world has changed. Roland Nash is chief investment strategist at Verno Capital.
Down in the mouth Ben Aris
Special to Russia now
im Ash and his colleagues at Royal Bank of Scotland were in Moscow for a look-see. Russia is the “flavor of the quarter”: The economy is doing far better than expected, and the budget deficit could disappear completely this year, four years ahead of schedule. And it is one of the few places in the world taking in new money, with some even suggesting it could emerge as a possible safe haven in the face of instability in the Arab world and Japan’s woes. But Ash said he was surprised to find the locals so pessimistic about their prospects. “In terms of overall impressions from the trip, we were actually taken aback by the generally downbeat views of locals on the economy. While accepting that high oil prices would provide a shortterm boost to the economy, there was concern that this would likely just discourage policymakers from addressing deeper seated structural weaknesses revealed through the crisis over the past three years,” Ash wrote in a note on the trip.
Ash’s comments on the pessimism among locals is poignant. I have often noticed this: Russians in general tend to be a lot more downbeat about the future of their country than the foreigners who live and work here. I’m not sure exactly what the cause of this is. One factor is surely war-fatigue. Russians have literally been battling to build a new life/country for two decades now, and it has been really hard work. What little progress was made in the 1990s was almost all knocked down in the ruble crisis of 1998, and most had to start again and rebuild their businesses. (They did, and the upshot was that there was a lot less conspicuous consumption and a lot more investment after that crisis: Who talks about New Russians these days?). Under Vladimir Putin, stability and an economic boom appeared, and in 2007 there was some real optimism about the future (look at all the children in Moscow — everyone’s kids here are the same age: 4 and 7). But the 2008 economic crisis knocked everything down again. Russians are simply tired of struggling, if you ask me. The foreigners love the dynamism
of Russia and the opportunity it presents, as it stands in sharp contrast to the ossified social hierarchy of home. However, as one of my Russian colleagues said to me the other day: “You are already an adventurer simply because you are here, so this all suits you. And you have the option of leaving anytime you want. Me, I have to put two kids through Russian schools. I rely on the
Moreover, with Duma and presidential elections looming, there is more uncertainty on the near horizon. The crisis undid Putin’s implicit promise — “don’t meddle in politics and I will fix the economy” — and people are angry because they can see that the state is only pretending to listen to them. When profit margins were fat and wages soaring, it didn’t matter. But now the opposite
In 2007, there was some real optimism about the future; look at all the children in Moscow.
Foreigners love the dynamism of Russia and the opportunity it presents, in contrast to home.
Russian medical system. And I will be dependent on the Russian pension system. That is a totally different deal to yours.” The recent crisis depressed everyone, and in 1998, it took four years for moods to lighten. I was surprised at how well most of my friends took this crisis compared to the black pall that fell over Russia in 1998. But that’s not to say they are happy.
is true: They are thinking more about politics and feel betrayed by the government. For the country’s oligarchs, the situation is slightly different, although they are also thinking about politics. Everyone is nervous because of the anti-graft campaign. Members of the moneyed elite are assuming that someone big—either from business or the administration—is going to be arrested to serve as an example. This would help the
anti-graft program, which is not doing well at the moment (everyone started paying taxes after former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested in 2003), but it would also play extremely well to the gallery ahead of elections. So, many rich Russians have been sending money abroad and diversifying their businesses internationally. Personally, I think this is a temporary thing and that everyone will cheer up again after the elections are over and the economy is moving again. After all, things are getting better in Russia pretty quickly, despite the big bumps in the road. (And spring will help, as everyone is very depressed this time of year as the snow turns to slyakot, mountains of slush.) And Russians don’t give up— ever, regardless of how down in the mouth they are. They have this Herculean ability to deal with suffering. One of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes is from a trip to Moscow in the depths of winter during World War II: As he was being driven to see Stalin, a large group of Russians stood in the snow eating ice cream. As this was pointed out to him, he quipped: “These people will never be defeated.”
most read Looking Beyond the Reset
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why the brain drain? Max Seddon
Special to RN
Audit Chamber head. Emigration, combined with low birth rate and high mortality rate — average male life expectancy is 63 — have contributed to a plummeting population. (Today there are about 143 million people living in Russia, a decrease of approximately 3.5 million overall since 2002.) At first, this seems the latest in a long line of emigration waves stretching back to the October Revolution, when thousands of entrepreneurs and intellectuals fled Lenin’s Bolshevik government. Since then, Russians have left the country in droves whenever circumstances forced them. Some did so to avoid state-sponsored persecution, as during Stalin’s purges or the anti-religious campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s. Others, particularly in the last two decades of the Soviet Union, left in search of civil liberties in Europe, Israel and the United States. Most, however, did so in search of better material conditions, as with the “sausage emigration” that accompanied production shortages during perestroika, or the 6 million Russians who left in the turbulent 1990s.
“We have to create favorable conditions for our citizens,” President Medvedev said. ”When there’s a lack of such conditions, people want to go somewhere else.”
“Each year, I ask my students where they see themselves in three or four years,” Professor Alexander Auzan said. Half saw themselves working abroad, he said.
It’s the relative absence of those force-majeure situations that worries so many about the current trend. Indeed, Russia is coming off a decade of unprecedented growth. Under Vladimir Putin, GDP increased six times, poverty was cut in half and the economy rose at an average of 7 percent a year. Many liberal commentators see the change as something primarily atmospheric. “The systemic explanation for the [current] wave of emigration is the same one that Blok once gave for Pushkin’s death: not enough air,” journalist Dmitry Oreshkin wrote in a recent article for Novaya Gazeta, an oppositionminded newspaper. “It’s harder and harder for a free, selfsufficient person to breathe in Putin’s Russia. There’s no place provided for him here.” What remains to be seen is where that atmosphere comes from: In a poll accompanying Oreshkin’s article, 62.5 percent of Novaya Gazeta readers chose “all of the above” from a list of reasons explaining the increase in emigration. Most cases seem to depend on an individual’s personal issues: their line of work, their age, the languages
OPTIMISM FOR RussiaNpolish relations
April 10 marked one year since the terrible tragedy near Smolensk that resulted in the deaths of dozens of top Polish officials. Do you believe that Russia’s outreach after the plane crash was sincere? What was the impact of this tragic accident on overall relations between Moscow and Warsaw? I think that Russia’s outreach was more than an outreach. I think it was a spontaneous and genuine reaction of compassion and sympathy, which was very much appreciated by many people in Poland or by people like myself who have family connections to Poland, but who are obviously rooted in America. In that sense it was a very positive indication that some of the historically enduring hostility between Russians and Poles is beginning to wane on the Russian side and also on the Polish side. I must say that I personally was touched by it. Do you think that the Russian-
Polish reconciliation process is irreversible? No, I don’t. I think processes such as the ones that have been experienced by the French and the Germans or the Germans and the Poles were reversible, but fortunately both sides in those two cases persisted, were patient and in the end created a much more enduring and comprehensive reconciliation. This still is not yet the case between the Poles and the Russians. This reconciliation is still vulnerable, and I think both sides ought to be cautious of that. Given the fact that relations between Russia and Poland have been poisoned for centuries, will the two nations be able to move beyond this “historic trap” and what should be done for that? I think it is possible to move beyond that. But one has to be also cautious of the fact that reciprocal hostility is not necessarily the correct definition of the relationship at different stages of history. What I mean by that is that at certain stages of history, the hostility involved Polish supremacy, which led to the occupation of Moscow, and that was centuries ago. In more recent centuries, it involves much more Russian supremacy and domination of Poland, including, for example, such horrible acts as Katyn. So one has to be aware of the fact that the wounds are a little more sensitive still on the Polish side than on the Russian side. One also has to recognize that in any rec-
The one-year anniversary this month of the Polish president’s tragic plane crash over Smolensk brought renewed attention to relations between Moscow and Warsaw. Alexander Gasyuk, Washington, D.C., correspondent for Rossiyskaya Gazeta and contributor to Russia Now, spoke to Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, foreign policy expert and PolishAmerican, about diplomacy after the crash that killed the president and 96 members of the political elite.
THE QUEEN OF HORROR
Special TO Russia Now
nton, 25, has a close eye on his suitcase. Though already an economic manager at a major oil company’s Moscow headquarters — a position he admits would take him years to reach in a Western country — he is considering taking a lesser-paying job or continuing his education in London. “Russia is just so depressing sometimes, especially in winter,” he said. For many educated young Russians, Western countries seem to have an intractable allure, whether there are more work opportunities, a better educational system, or simply nicer weather. While this last reason may seem trivial, many students are beginning to wonder if the grass is literally greener on the other side. “Each year, I ask my master’s students where they see themselves three or four years from now,” Alexander Auzan, a Moscow State University economics professor, said at a conference in the Polytechnic Museum this year. “In September 2010, roughly half said they envisaged themselves working abroad: not just anywhere but quite specifically in Germany, Britain, Ireland or Argentina.” Uncomfortable truths are part of any world leader’s job, but few could have been more sobering than the one facing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before his first G8 summit in July 2008. Just as he began his ambitious program of economic “modernization,” the white-collar professionals so crucial to it were prepared to jump ship — a staggering 57 percent of them, according to a Levada Center survey. Medvedev’s response was characteristic of the optimistic Western-style rhetoric he has employed throughout his presidency. “We have to create favorable conditions for our citizens,” Medvedev said. “When there’s a lack of such conditions, people want to go somewhere else.” But Russian professionals remain unconvinced. At least, that’s the conclusion it is possible to draw from the latest migration figures. More than 1.25 million Russians have left the country in the last few years, according to Sergei Stepashin,
Real reconciliation has to be rooted in physiology and the memory of the people. onciliation there is some distinction, which should not be exaggerated in importance, but is a distinction nonetheless between the stronger side and the weaker side. These realities have to be taken into account in the
very difficult and psychologically complex process that reconciliation truly is. I was in Moscow last year and I made a speech right after Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, spoke. We talked about reconciliation, and I said that I am really committed to the idea of reconcilation, and I made a point of emphasizing something. The real reconciliation is something that goes beyond government, it has to be rooted in the physiology and memory of the people. A reconcili-
they know, their family status and their cultural images. LiveJournal, a blogging site enormously popular with Russians, has a community called “Time to go?” where users keen to emigrate seek advice from likeminded Russians. More Opportunities for Those Who Stay However, some professionals have suggested that emigration makes it easier for those who stay to advance in their careers. Anna, 32, a senior curator at a major Moscow art institution, has apprenticed at several prestigious organizations in Europe, but ascribes her success to her return to Russia once and for all. “Paradoxically, there are more possibilities for a career here, as long as you’ve got the desire to have a career,” she said. “The fact that leaving Russia for a period of time is unambiguously helpful, in terms of getting some fresh air, is another matter entirely — but then, in the majority of cases, it’s worth coming back.” Max Seddon is a writer and editor specializing in Russia.
ation between governments is much more fragile than reconciliation between people. There are some fears that after the case of the Smolensk plane crash is closed and out of the spotlight, Russian-Polish ties may worsen again. It’s not a secret that there are some countries that are uncomfortable with improving ties between Russia and Poland. What is your personal forecast on both the future of bilateral relations between Moscow and Warsaw and relations between the two countries in a broader European context? I am cautiously optimistic on both accounts. I think there is some genuine momentum in the Polish-Russian reconciliation that should be maintained and can be maintained. And I do think that if it is maintained, the concerns that some of the countries in the proximity of Poland and Russia have will be relieved in the sense that they will see some genuine benefits for themselves. What role, if any, should the United States play to facilitate the normalization of the Polish-Russian relationship at this point? I think just be sympathetic, engage, try to reduce irritations that can surface on the one or the other side. Even in regards to the question of deployments of defensive missiles, Poles need to understand that this is not some sort of an alliance against Russia, and Russians need to understand that if it takes place, it is not going to be some threat to Russia. I think America can play a constructive role, but ultimate responsibility rests on the countries — and especially the two peoples — involved in this process. Zbigniew Brzezinski was security advisor to former president Jimmy Carter.
nna Starobinets explores children with disturbances so deeply horrifying that only her stunning talent for suspense and her elegant prose can coax a faint-of-heart reader to finish the compelling but revolting lead story in her collection, “An Awkward Age.” Starobinets, doe-eyed and diminutive, has emerged as Russia’s “Queen of Horror,” though her literary prowess has also elevated her to the elite category of “intellectual fantasy.” Born in 1978, she is also a well-known journalist. She is indeed a singular talent, though it is unclear that the translation of her first collection can bring her a foreign audience. The central character in “An Awkward Age,” Maxim, metamorphoses into something demented, and even darker than Frank, the child in Iain Banks’ controversial book, “The Wasp Factory.” Just as mental illness explains Maxim’s evil deeds, the story veers into visceral horror focusing on molt and decay and hideous rebirth. Still, Maxim’s wretchedness is not utterly unsympathetic. Like other Starobinets characters, he is spawned in an oppressive and unhappy atmosphere: His parents appear to at least enable his metamorphosis. His mother stands by haplessly as he turns inward except to threaten others. Maxim gets fat and ugly. Insects travel up his nose. He eats other kids’ lunch. He hoards sugar. He sews things into his pillow. He tracks his sister’s menstrual cycle. His mother finds his diary, a revelatory piece of poetry tracking the sickest of minds
and the disintegration of a personality. The story “The Rules” starts out simply enough with a child who has obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Again, Starobinets shows a deft understanding of the plodding, day-to-day strategies and reasoning of the mentally ill. Many kids have times when they have to count or repeat words, believing if they don’t something awful will happen. But something awful does happen to this little boy, and a voice in his head tells him that “the rules” are about to get much more complicated. It is a voice to chill a reader’s heart. Mental disorders and illness are a motif for the author. At first it allows the reader to explain some of the misfortune, tragedy and evil of these stories. But there is something else that smells bad in the fridge (in one story, the main character falls in love with bad food from the refrigerator). In other words, illness does not explain the depths of the hideousness. There is a theory that all of the anxiety and helplessness and anger of a family can stow away and fester in one vulnerable family member, the one who gets sick, or even becomes a monster. It is this way that Starobinets looks at society itself. So is Starobinets more than a horror writer? In Russia, she has been compared to Stephen King and even Kafka. Her stories communicate something urgent, if elusive, through schizophrenic characters in anti-fairy tales. The reader does not always understand what is real or imagined, only that neglect is never benign, in a family or society, and that all monsters come from some mother’s womb.
Long Live the imperials! Jennifer Eremeeva
Special to Russia Now
s excitement over this month’s Royal Wedding reaches fever pitch, it seems appropriate for Russia to seriously consider a strategic return to monarchy. There are those who will feel that this is a complicated and expensive move, but it is clear to me that properly constituted, the return to monarchy could go a long way to mitigating a number of Russia’s current issues. Sure, it’s expensive, but surely not as expensive as the Sochi Olympics, and a far superior long-term investment. I won’t reveal which of the candidates I think should wear the Cap of Monomakh (not in this month’s column anyway), but I will pose this question: What is a Stabilization Fund for if not to create stability? The best way to do that is to get “The Imperials” back to work as heads of state in Russia. Here’s why: 1. Russia Already Functions Like a Monarchy: It’s hard to impose hereditary monarchy on countries that are used to hundreds of years of representational government, but, happily, Russia doesn’t have that problem. The mindset is primed for a seamless return to Tsar Alexander III’s trifecta of “Autocracy, Orthodoxy, and Nationalism.” The Church would be the first to sign up and lend the new monarch their not inconsiderable influence and support to get the populace on board. It’s a no brainer. 2. Russia Has the Equipment: Russia has all it needs in terms of regalia — crowns, orbs, scepters, thrones, carriages, palaces, crown jewels and a coat of arms — all tucked up in the Diamond Fund, no doubt more than ready for an airing. The existing real estate just needs minor
renovations such as indoor plumbing. 3. Monarchy is Great Public Relations: It goes without saying that the Imperials would do wonders for Russia’s PR, both at home and abroad. At home, they could handle things like charitable causes, visit factories and open sports events. This would free up the people who run the government to run it. Abroad, the Imperials could spearhead things like bids for major global sporting events. Or, better still, they could just have the occasional wedding at home. Monarchy, of course, is to tourism what honey is to flies. And while the KGB/FSB is an admirable school of management for many aspects of government, PR isn’t one of them. 4. More Fun at Home: An acute problem with Russian society today is that everyone wants to go and have fun elsewhere. The Imperials would foster and encourage fun at home by creating a social calendar and thereby an axis around which the socially ambitious would revolve. They could make unlikely backwaters fashionable, just as Prince Albert did for Scotland. Imagine boating week in Volgograd, winter sports in Krasnodar, and the elk-shooting season in Omsk. 5. A Shot in the Arm to the Military: Monarchy is always a boon for the military, the only profession considered suitable for the male members of any Imperial dynasty. The army will become a competitive profession. Families will stop paying money to keep their sons out and start paying money to get their sons in. Total rehabilitation. Jennifer Eremeeva is a longtime resident of Moscow; she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs and www.dividingmytime. typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.
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Arts Film and literature focus on fallen oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s fate
Drama Shock theater in Moscow
From Oil Tycoon to Imprisoned Muse ANNA NEMTSOVA
SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
During the first few moments of the movie “Khodorkovsky,” the screen remains black. Then a narrow blue band widens, revealing two oil pumps in the middle of a snowy desert in Siberia, arms swinging like a huge clock, ticking off the inevitable minutes. The film, which was a sleeper hit warmly received at last month’s Berlin Film Festival, got much bigger play after it was stolen from the director’s office before a small screening, causing an even greater sensation. It has been seven years since the richest man of Russia, oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was arrested in Novosibirsk Airport for fraud. His fate has intrigued creative minds and intellectuals all around the world. Long-term imprisonment has turned Khodorkovsky from a Russian businessman into an iconic subject. While many of Russia’s oligarchs ignored or broke poorly enforced laws to amass their riches in the 1990s, only Khodorkovsky was arrested, his advocates said, because of his growing interest in the political opposition. Fate has also transformed this one-time oligarch into a philosopher and writer; he has been accepted by Russian artists not only as a subject but as a colleague. His prose, published in magazines and a few opposition newspapers, explores the meaning of justice, the decay of corruption and endurance during what seem to be hopeless moments. Director Cyril Tuschi spent five
A still depicting a young Mikhail from “Khodorkovsky.”
years traveling and speaking to Russians, and he said he is “overwhelmed by the aura of a martyr” surrounding Khodorkovsky. The German documentary was released soon after a Russian court sentenced Khodorkovsky and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, to six more years in prison. The trial added to the relevance of the recent proliferation of Khodorkovskythemed literature and art. In Russia, where history is saturated with stories of political repressions, exiles and arrests for several generations, many writers have personal associations and motivations for getting involved in or staying out of politics. For acclaimed Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Khodorkovsky’s fate has become en-
twined with her own. They jointly received a literary prize for their letters to each other, which were published in independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Ulitskaya’s grandfathers spent more than 20 years in jail between them; her friends from the sixties were imprisoned as well. She approached Khodorkovsky as a subject emblematic of the throes of Russian society and an archetype of its literature. One of the most published Russian writers, Boris Akunin, once compared Khodorkovsky’s imprisonment with Andrei Sakharov’s arrest and exile in Gorky, now Nizhny Novgorod, in 1979. Nobody then would believe in positive changes in the U.S.S.R., where an academic
was kept in exile, the writer recalled. But all it took was one phone call from Mikhail Gorbachev for people to believe in the fresh wind of change. “Until Khodorkovsky is out of jail, all the beautiful words about civil society, independent courts and the struggle against corruption will be taken as empty,” Akunin said. Soon after 22 months of hearings and the court’s new guilty verdict, the most famous Russian prisoner had his own literary debut, a collection of his articles, interviews and dialogues. Back in the 1990s, a popular satirist and playwright, Victor Shenderovich, associated Khodorkovsky with a long list of Russia’s richest men. “As soon as he went to jail, his real fate began to lead him,” Shen-
derovich said. “Today, Khodorkovsky is our barometer of change: The day he is free, the world will know that new, better times have come to Russia.” In Russia, the price for exploring injustice and corruption can be high, the writers say: The journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the human rights activist Natalya Estemirova and the lawyers Stanislav Markelov and Sergei Magnitsky are becoming accepted among writers as symbols of people who lost their lives in the struggle for truth and justice. Perhaps out of respect for Anton Chekhov’s traditional idea that the main character of any play based on a real person has to either leave Russia or die, neither Shenderovich nor any other Russian writers have so far made Khodorkovsky the hero of a play. Nevertheless, his fate continues to bring more activists from Russia’s most prominent cultural elite into a tight community. Writer and internationally recognized artist Yuri Rost said he went to Khodorkovsky’s trial to look at the man in the glass cage and see “real courage.” Tuschi, the German filmmaker, said he was intrigued by the story of Khodorkovsky’s defiance, the courage of a man who could have chosen political asylum in the United States, but instead returned to Russia, on his private jet, knowing he would go to the gulag. The German film looks at how money and prison can transform a personality. In an animated scene of Tuschi’s film, Khodorkovsky swims across a pool full of oil and golden coins. He seems to be sinking. As he approaches the pool’s edge, there are fewer coins and the water begins to clear: Khodorkovsky appears to swim again.
Directors and writers have turned their eyes to Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a subject, inspiration and, more recently, colleague.
Alexandra Rebebok and Danil Vorobyov in “Life Smiled at Me.”
Theater Comes Up From the Underground Moscow’s theater movement, “New Drama,” challenges Russian audiences with gritty realism and gains a cult following. EMMANUEL GRYNSZPAN SPECIAL TO RUSSIA NOW
On an intimate black-box stage, actors read their parts from the scripts in their hands. Slowly, the reading turns into performance, tension building as the actors transform into characters — four young and aimless drunkards. The audience appears shocked and amused by the crudeness of “Life Smiled At Me,” which employs language unheard of in Russian theaters. A cluster of young Russian playwrights armed with razorsharp tongues and a penchant for realism is bringing a new dynamism to the country’s theatrical reputation with its movement called “New Drama.” Their themes are gritty, and they are attracting daring talents and lively audiences. Theater.doc, which produced “Life Smiled at Me,” is best known outside Russia for performing a play about the life and death of the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky — who died brutally in a Moscow Detention Center last year — giving a voice to civil discontent. The group also performed a play based on Internet reaction on chats and message boards to the school siege in Beslan. “Life Smiled at Me” has been awarded a Golden Mask Award. The Golden Mask Theater Festival is Moscow’s premier theater event and runs each year from March to April, closing with a showcase for cuttingedge work, called the Case Festival. Some foreign theatergoers are under the impression that the nation that gave the world Chekhov and Gogol may be resting on its laurels. Whatever collapse of creativity occurred in the 1990s has been replaced with an emerging theater scene worthy of Konstantin Stanislavsky himself. Contemporary is a word that reappears like a leitmotif with these playwrights. Ukrainian playwright Natalia Vorozhbit offered her definition of New Drama: “These are people who write about the contemporary world with a contemporary outlook and language. We are not afraid of provoking. Our writing must be emotional.” While it seems Russian actors are often criticized for overacting, there’s nothing like that here.
Music World-famous Russian pianist launches American tour
The Charismatic Virtuoso from Irkutsk Denis Matsuev, a virtuoso among pianists, recalls life as a young student from Siberia before there were opening nights. ALENA TVERITINA RUSSIA NOW
training for the Irkutsk junior football team and didn’t hurry to the New Names auditions. The charitable organization was in search of musical talent in Irkutsk. “I had an awful row with my parents about this,” Matsuev laughed. “They said, ‘Come on, go and play some prelude by Rachmaninoff... and then you can move on with your football.’ And they persuaded me in the end.” Six months later, Matsuev also managed to pass an audition at the central music school in Moscow. “There were absolutely no prospects for a musician in Irkutsk... Moving, however, was a tragedy for me. It w a s
ment in Irkutsk and gave me $18,000 ‘to get settled.’ We rented our apartment in Moscow with this money.” Matsuev and his talented peers at the New Names foundation began to tour extensively. He played for the Queen of England and the Pope. “That’s when I understood that music really could become my profession.” Matsuev became convinced he could make a career of music after winning the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1998. Among those congratulating the youth was legendary British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. “He sent me a fax saying, ‘I had no doubts.’”
MASTUEV’S UPCOMING CONCERTS May 6, 2011 Strathmore Hall, Music Center at Strathmore North Bethesda, Maryland May 8, 2011 Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts May 15, 2011 Davies Symphony Hall, San Fransisco, California
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Seated at an oak table in an English pub in Moscow, Denis Matsuev is just as charismatic as he is in tailcoats at a concert grand piano. Matsuev said he is excited about getting back in front of an American audience as he prepared to do yet another tour. “I am always happy to play in the States. Walking onto the stage turns into a huge celebration.” The 35-year-old pianist performs 160 concerts per year and cannot even remember how many albums he has released — 18 or 19. Critics call him “a virtuoso in the grandest of Russian traditions” (the Gramophone) and “the new Horowitz” (the Times). The story of this global triumph began 33 years ago in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, when
the 3-year-old Matsuev walked up to a piano for the first time, reached up to the keys and, still unable to see them, repeated the melody he had just heard from the weather forecast on television with a single finger. “The atmosphere at home was entirely musical,” Matsuev recalled. “Mother taught at the pedagogical institute and the music school. Father, a pianist and composer, was head of the music section at the drama theater and also worked at a music school. We constantly listened to music.” Matsuev is also proud that he managed to tear down all notions about what a wunderkind should be. “Sure, I have an amazing ear for music. I can pick up any song in a second and learn any sonata in a few days, but I’ve never practiced for 10 hours. I was a totally normal boy — I played hockey, football and broke my arm a few times,” he added. In fact, soccer almost interfered with the musician’s career. At 14, Matsuev was seriously
1991, a terribly wet and windy autumn, the August Coup had just occurred, the stores were empty, there was total uncertainty and fear.” But Matsuev cheered for the Moscow football club Spartak: “When my parents told me that we could go to football games in Moscow, it all changed for me.” If you ask Matsuev what the secret to his success is, he immediately replies that 80 percent of the credit belongs to his parents. “Think about it, they left everything in Irkutsk and moved into a rented one-room apartment in Moscow, where they washed, cooked and practiced with me! Naturally, there was no guarantee at all that I would succeed... My grandmother secretly sold her apart-
Not About the Politics Don’t go looking for politics in most of these dramas, however. The Magnitsky play is more the exception than the rule. In
“Enjoy the metro, it is fast and cheap. Do not like smelly crowds and violent pushing? Learn to catch a car by stretching out your hand in an about 45 to 50 degree angle and state your location and price. If he nods, you won. If not, offer more or hail another car.” “I have often noticed this: Russians in general tend to be a lot more downbeat about the future of their country than the foreigners who live and work here. ”
Marat Gatsalov is one of New Drama’s leading directors.
spite of the dissent at the core of the movement, its writers so far reject open confrontation with the establishment. “Politics doesn’t interest me, I’m a woman,” Vorozhbit said awkwardly. Then, after a pause, she acknowledged: “Some part of me feels ashamed for not writing on this subject. In fact, without having really discussed it between ourselves, I think we consider the topic too dirty to mention.” The idea seems paradoxical, given New Drama’s fearless treatment of taboos (at least in Moscow’s theaters) such as drugs, prostitution and homosexuality. New Drama has increased its productions at an astonishing rate of one to two new produc-
“Theaters are suffocating under the old plays. But they slam the door in our faces.” tions per week, carried out with absolutely zero financial backing. New Drama observers believe that the movement is growing at a fevered pitch. A Cult Following Every night, roughly 30 theatergoers enter the tiny basement of “Theater.doc,” which already has a cult following in Moscow. There is a bit of a conspiratorial feeling inside, and a chemistry occurs between the actors and the the audience in the spare atmosphere. But they could use larger venues. Marat Gatsalov is one of the movement’s leading directors. “Theaters [in Moscow] are suffocating under the old plays,” he said. “But they slam the door in our faces.” “The Golden Mask Festival understands we are the future,” Mikhail Uganov, New Drama director, said. “We don’t have access to big state theaters in Moscow for one reason: Their directors are old. In the provinces, our plays, my plays are already on the stage of the big theaters.”
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Published on Apr 26, 2011